New Bears Offensive coordinator is here for one reason and one reason only. That’s to help develop Mitch Trubisky. Sure, he’ll be involved in other aspects of the offense and will be a valued contributor to helping with design and game planning, and self-scouting the roster and offensive staff etc. etc. etc. However, Mark Helfrich would not be doing those things and on this team in his current role if he was not as good as he is at developing Quarterbacks. Especially out of spread option sets.
This hire caught everyone by surprise. While everyone was connecting the dots (myself included by the way) basing the evidence off of people who were tied in with Nagy through his past contacts or other people’s contacts who have worked with Nagy and types of offense they come from and blah blah blah, Pace and Nagy were pulling the wool over our eyes. So far in the early stages of the way the Bears are assembling their staff comfort level is not a priority. Mike Mulligan who was the first to mention the possible hire connected the likely connection between Nagy and Helfrich on his radio show yesterday morning as through the agent they both share Trace Armstrong the former Bears and Dolphins Defensive End.
I think at this point it’s pretty much common knowledge the Bears will be incorporating a lot of spread concepts with run-pass options and marry them to the West Coast system. That’s why Helfrich makes a lot of sense as he ran a Chip Kelly style offense that is West Coast-based with spread concepts sprinkled in. There’ll also be a little Air Coryell influence as he actually began his career learning under Dirk Koetter who is now the Head Coach in Tamp Bay trying to develop their own young Quarterback in James Winston. This is probably the best way to get the most out of Mitch Trubisky and where Helfrich will play the biggest role. Whoever the Quarterback coach will be (currently rumored to be Patrick O’Hara last seasons Quarterbacks Coach for the Houston Texans) will spend most of the time teaching the techniques and reiterating the play concepts but there is no doubt Helfrich will be overseeing the process. Nagy will be too busy with the entire operation to do it himself.
I won’t talk about RPO’s, and getting the ball out quick, and fast break offense as that has been covered to death by now, but I will cover some specific schematic things that the Bears could implement to enhance their current roster, in particular, their 4 offensive draft picks last season and the profile of what type of players they may profile in free agency and the draft.
One thing I want to clarify is I will not pigeonhole this Bears future offensive scheme based on what these offensive minds have run in the past. One of the things that should excite you about these hires is the innovative nature of them and how open-minded they are about how to attack defenses. So even though the basis of their offense will include concepts from their past they will adjust things to fit their personnel more so than acquire personnel to fit their scheme because of their flexibility and open-mindedness. Here are some of Helfrich’s influences from the past that can seep their way into the Bears new offensive playbook.
Since Helfrich’s first influence was Dirk Koetter it stands to reason this is likely the most ingrained of his influences. You never forget the first kiss, or the first car you’ve owned, or the first anything you’ve ever had and usually stays with you throughout your adult life. The one thing Koetter is most famous for related directly to him is the Four Vertical concept. Be sure to click on the link I provided to a piece by Smartfootball.com on the Four Vertical Offense. I won’t go into breaking it down as this is not a scheme piece but have included this link for your convenience to get familiarized with it. A concept first created by NFL great Don Coryell and then reinvented by Mouse Davis’ Run and Shoot offense made famous by the then Houston Oilers with Warren Moon as their Quarterback. As we’ve seen, Nagy’s biggest influence on Alex Smith was to go deeper downfield than in his years previous. So expect a lot of these vertical concepts to find their way into the Bears new playbook with Nagy’s blessing.
His other most talked about influence has been under Chip Kelly’s spread system which is most famous for the speed at which that offense operates out of to reduce the defenses ability to make substitutions. It’s also an offense that is heavily based on its inside power run game. Most people think Chip Kelly and associate it with passing but it’s really a run-first based offense as written in this excellent Grantland piece. Helfrich actually went more pass-heavy once he took over for Kelly when he left for the NFL likely due to his earlier influence working under Koetter. Make no mistake, the vertical offense helps with runs too as the safeties basically have to stay deep and out of the box to respect the depth of the 4 routes run.
As we all know by now the Bears did not have the vertical weapons to threaten the defense enough to respect them deep and thus forced them to face a ton of stacked boxes. Football being the ultimate team sport one faction of the team helps the other. In this case, the passing game helps the running game and then when teams adjust you can hit them with the running game. Not exactly a novel concept as all teams preach balance. However, sometimes teams just take something away and when it happens you have to move away from balance. Teams that thrive offensively in this league can move on to a pass-heavy attack and still thrive. Eventually, when that happens most defenses adjust to stop that and then your run game opens up. That’s the key and that usually is when a personnel issue comes into play.
Having players who can win one on one matchups without relying on scheme or teammates to do so make all the difference in the world. Now if there will be a heavy influence of vertical type offense the Bears do have some players on the roster who can actually help execute this. You start with the two big Wide Receivers they have in Cam Meredith and Kevin White who can run those comeback routes off the Four vertical offense as they can post up any Cornerback with their size and strength. They both can also factor into the West Coast quick routes as they both have athleticism and speed to go with their size and thus some run after the catch ability. I know a lot of Bears fans will roll their eyes at the mention of White being a part of this but he is under contract and will remain on the roster for at least one more season. There is the possibility White is improved as his latest injury was not a leg injury and now he has a full offseason to work on things like route work and strength training he could not the previous two seasons. So don’t be surprised to see that explosion we’ve seen pre-draft return.
The one thing the Bears were famously deficient in was the lack of vertical threats to stretch the defense and open up both the running game and the underneath routes in the passing offense. That’s an area they will have to rectify and will in one way or another. One threat they do have is Tarik Cohen who will likely continue to run routes from the Flanker and Slot position as well as out of the backfield. Can’t wait to see what Helfrich and Nagy design for him. Perhaps Tanner Gentry factors into the equation as well but make no mistake about it the Bears will dig into the Wide receiver pool in free agency and possibly the draft as well.
There’ll be lots of options here. First name that comes to mind is Chiefs free agent Albert Wilson. He’s had a pretty good year and is a young ascending talent who would be a nice get and brings familiarity with Nagy’s offensive philosophies. His 4.43 speed would add the vertical element to help stretch the field which the various blends Nagy’s and Helfrich’s past influences suggest will be used heavily throughout this regime’s reign with the Bears. Of course, there are some other big names who can be added like Sammy Watkins, Paul Richardson and Allen Robinson. There are other players who will be cheaper and can add that field-stretching element to make the Bears more dangerous vertically like John and Jaron Brown from Arizona as well as Mike Wallace who’s older at 31, but is still every bit the vertical threat he was in his earlier days with the Steelers. I covered the possibilities of free agent options in greater detail here and the draft here.
No one knows how this will ultimately play out but one thing we all can count on is the offense will be vastly different and much more layered through a blend of various influences thanks to the hire of Nagy and now Helfrich who both come from different backgrounds and different influences. None of this matters if Trubisky isn’t the player both Pace and Nagy believe he’ll be, however, which will be task one for Helfrich. This offense is being created to match the skill set of the Quarterback as it should be and time will tell how successful that will be. For now, we all anxiously await the Free Agency and Draft acquisitions and training camp. Thoughts of yardage accumulated and touchdowns being scored in droves should keep Bears fans warm and cozy over these long winter months, spring and summer change while we await late summer game one to begin a new era in Bears history. One possibly being known for its offense. Wouldn’t that just be something?